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How to watch the 95th Scripps National Spelling Bee

It's a notoriously difficult competition, and fans will be able to watch all four rounds of the national competition before a winner is crowned Thursday.

WASHINGTON — Would you forget the D in handkerchief? Or add an extra C to absence? If so, you're likely not competing in the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee this week. 

The annual spelling competition's semifinals kick off on Wednesday, with the finalists competing for the grand prize the following night. 

It's the 95th year for the annual competition, started in 1925, with just three competitions skipped over the years (most recently in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

But even if you aren't a spelling champ, you can still watch along to see the competitors spell some truly befuddling words. The spelling bee is aired live on the ION, which is free via antenna or with most cable, satellite and streaming providers. 

To see how to watch in your area, click here and enter your zip code.  

Can I stream the Scripps National Spelling Bee? 

ION does allow streaming of the competition, and watchers can even tune in to additional coverage of each round leading up to the finals on various platforms. 

ION Plus and Pluto.TV  both have live coverage of the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds, as well as the semifinals and finals. The first two rounds start May 30. 

Both apps are available on smart TVs, and viewers can tune in on a computer here (ION Plus) or here (Pluto.TV).

Who won the national spelling bee last year? 

The 2022 winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was then 13-year-old Harini Logan, who claimed victory in the competition's first-ever lightning-round tiebreaker. 

Her victory was hard-earned, coming after a grueling standoff against second-place speller Vikram Raju and a temporary elimination from the competition. 

That's right, she was at one point eliminated from the competition before coming back to win it all. 

The key moment came during the bee's much-debated multiple-choice vocabulary round, when Harini defined the word “pullulation” as the nesting of mating birds. Scripps said the correct answer was the swarming of bees. 

But shortly after the "wrong" answer, the judges came back with a correction. 

“We did a little sleuthing after you finished, which is what our job is, to make sure we’ve made the right decision,” head judge Mary Brooks said to Harini. “We (did) a little deep dive in that word and actually the answer you gave to that word is considered correct, so we’re going to reinstate you.”

From there, Harini breezed into the finals against Vikram. Both misspelled four words in the final face-off, forcing the judges to set up a tiebreaker for the first time in the 98-year-old competition's history. 

Harini managed to spell 21 words correctly during a 90-second spell-off, beating Vikram by six.

Where are the spelling bee winners now?

Harini graduated middle school just before winning the bee and now attends a private school in Texas, according to the San Antonio Report.

The 2021 champion, Zalia Avant-garde, is now a published children's book author at age 16. Her first title, a nonfiction book called "It's Not Bragging If It's True: How to Be Awesome at Life," hit shelves at the beginning of May. A picture book titled "Words of Wonder from Z to A" is set for release on June 27.

Other champions end up leading the next generation of spelling bees themselves. 

Kavya Shivashankar, the 2009 winner, is now an obstetrician/gynecologist who moonlights on the panel selecting words for the Scripps competition. Four other previous champions: Barrie Trinkle (1973), Jacques Bailly (1980), George Thampy (2000) and Sameer Mishra (2008) also sit on the panel. 

Bailly has served as the official pronouncer of the Scripps National Spelling Bee since 2003.

Why is it called a spelling bee?

Predictably for an event focused on words and their meanings, the phrase "spelling bee" has some history. 

According to Merriam-Webster (whose dictionary the Scripps competition uses), the "bee" in the term is possibly a descendant of the Middle English word "bene," which describes "voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task."

The word has been used to describe group activities, like a "quilting bee." 

And it's likely the term stuck around because, well, it's just a lot simpler than some of the other things people called spelling bees before settling on that term. Merriam-Webster has a list of some of them: 

1) Trials in Spelling
2) Spelling School
3) Spelling Match
4) Spelling-Fight
5) Spelling Combat
6) Spelldown

What does the spelling bee winner get?

Although winning the annual competition is incredibly challenging, the Scripps National Spelling Bee champion gets a lot to take home. 

For starters, they earn a $50,000 cash prize. They'll also walk away with a commemorative medal and the Scripps Cup, the official championship trophy for the competition. 

Merriam-Webster tacks on another $2,500 cash prize and a reference library for the champion to use in future spelling endeavors. 

The winner also receives $400 worth of reference materials from Encyclopedia Britannica, including a replica of the encyclopedia's first-ever edition, published in 1868. They'll also get a three-year membership to the Britannica Online Premium for more modern searches.

And finally, Scholastic makes a $2,000 donation in "Scholastic Dollars" to the school of the champion's choice. The school can use those funds to purchase new library books from Scholastic's collection. 

There are also smaller cash prizes for the finalists who don't get the trophy. Anybody who makes it to the first round of the finals (up to 7th place) will get $2,000. The prizes for 6th place onward get increasingly larger, with the runner-up taking home $25,000. 

Where is the Scripps National Spelling Bee held? 

Each year, the spelling bee takes place at a hotel or convention center somewhere around Washington DC during the week after Memorial Day. 

This year, 231 spellers were invited to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. 

Over the next several days, the competitors will be whittled down. In previous years, the field has traditionally been cut to fewer than 100 spellers by the end of the preliminary round. In 2022, only 12 children advanced to the finals. 

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